Israeli Students and MKs Clash Over Controversial Nakba Day Ceremony in TA University

The event follows a heated debate in the Knesset, in which Arab and Jewish MKs traded insults; dozens of right-wing activists gather on campus in protest.

The controversial Nakba Day ceremony was held on Monday in Tel Aviv University (TAU), following a heated debate in the Knesset over the institution's decision to approve it. Hundreds of people took part in the event, while right-wing protesters gathered at the University's entrance.

The university approved last week a request to hold a ceremony to commemorate Nakba Day. Nakba is the Arabic word for catastrophe, and for Israeli Arabs it marks the anniversary of events leading to Israel's independence in 1948. In January, the High Court of Justice upheld the controversial Nakba Law passed by the Knesset, which grants the Finance Minister the authority to reduce the budget of state-funded bodies that openly reject Israel as a Jewish state or mark the state's Independence Day as a day of mourning.

TAU approved the ceremony, but required the organizers to provide funding for the salaries of the six guards securing the event. The location was also changed due to security reasons, from the social sciences building to the university's entrance.
Right-wing activists started gathering by the university's gates an hour before it began, with dozens of policeman separating them from the site. One protester was arrested after knocking over the stage.

Earlier on Monday, the Knesset's Education Committee held a stormy session over approval of the ceremony. Right after the debate began, MK Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) left the discussion in protest, because it was scheduled at the same time as the Knesset Speaker's meeting of which he is a member. As he left, MK Miri Regev (Likud) shouted "your place is in Gaza, not ours."

The quarrels continued after Regev said the session should be dismissed. MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad) turned to her and said, "you are analphabetic. You don't know what academic freedom is. How low can you get?" Regev was quick to respond: "You hurt the people of Israel when you travelled to India saying our weapons are poor; you traitor."

The university's representative Professor Yoav Ariel said that their "consideration is quite simple, in accordance with the law and with the university's regulations, that allow this sort of event. As long as no law is broken, the university lets students to hold such events."

MK Danny Danon (Likud) asked Ariel if the university would have allowed the ceremony to take place If Yigal Amir's brother was there, claiming a terrorist is participating in the event. MK Alex Miller(Yisrael Beiteinu) asked university representatives if they would allow holding a memorial for Nazis.

MK Ahmed Tibi said that the students are asking to "commemorate an important day in their narrative". Turning to the Jewish MKs, Tibi added: "your people suffered, hold some respect and empathy to the suffering that you caused."

Education Minister and chairman of the Higher Education Council Gideon Sa'ar called TAU President Yosef Klafter last week and asked if the university would reconsider the decision to allow the ceremony to take place. Sa'ar's communications adviser said that "the education minister sees the decision as wrong and outrageous."MK Miller, who also heads the Knesset's Education Committee, called the event a "disgrace" and said that it "is a direct blow to the states symbols and sovereignty."

Nakba Day - Alon Ron - May 14, 2012
Alon Ron